RHONY: Bethenny Frankel’s journey to get masks for healthcare workers

Bethenny Frankel (Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images)
Bethenny Frankel (Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images) /

Bethenny Frankel has been busy chasing PPE for healthcare workers, but that was no easy task for the former RHONY cast member.

The New York Times ran an article recently about Bethenny Frankel and her quest for masks during the coronavirus pandemic.  The former Real Housewives of New York star isn’t new to helping out in a crisis, but found herself in over her head at the start of this journey.  Bethenny was doing her best to secure PPE (Personal protective equipment) for hospitals and healthcare workers in need, but that was easier said than done.

She was eventually connected with Jake Uhlenkott, who’s Linkedin profile described himself as a “Farmerpreneur // Management Consultant // Recording Artist.”  When the NY state governor asked for her help finding masks, she thought Uhlenkott could help.  A publicist emailed Bethenny with an offer of 500 million masks, but they weren’t in the US and wouldn’t be available immediately.

"A day later, he told her he had found five million masks made by the manufacturer 3M, the gold standard, in Canada. Ms. Frankel confirmed with New York State officials that they were interested. And like that, a deal was on."

After asking for credentials from Uhlenkott to ensure he was legit, and that the PPE was legit, he produced some documents that seemed to verify his identity.  Bethenny and the NY state sent him $82.5 million purchase order for 15 million masks – but the deal was still contingent on inspection and confirmation that the masks existed.

What happened next was mostly Bethenny asking to see the stockpile of masks and Uhlenkott actively avoiding her requests.  The whole point of the deal was that the masks were available and ready to go to the workers that needed them.  With the untimely delay, Bethenny text Uhlenkott that her patience was running thin.

48 hours after that conversation, Bethenny received the proof she asked for but it only confirmed her fears.  “Mr. Uhlenkott sent blurry photos and a video of boxes in a warehouse that didn’t look like the masks they had agreed upon. Ms. Frankel was suspicious. ‘You better be able to prove what you have been selling.'”  Eventually, there were no masks to procure.  Uhlenkott offered to introduce her to his “source,” Ralph Frengel.

Frengel had 275 million masks available and eventually, New York City agreed to purchase 10 million masks for $66.5 million.  Frengel, apparently, demanded a purchase order straight from the city where the money would be put in an escrow account controlled by their lawyers.  Bethenny and the city demanded, again, to see the masks before going any further.  Frengel said it wasn’t worth his time to prove the masks were real – and the deal fell through again.

The author of the New York Times article, Jack Nicas, reached out to Frengel himself for the article.  When asked if he sold masks, Frengel said, “I don’t think so. I’d have to look back through my records.”  He eventually claimed he was a middleman for mask sales but wasn’t really involved.  The deal never went further and Bethenny continued on her journey to find PPE.

Bethenny is often criticized in the media for one thing or another, but no one can deny she did a lot to help get masks into the right hands.  This cat-and-mouse game of trying to procure masks that don’t actually exist is apparently fairly common as of late.  3M even created a hotline for “Fraudulent Activity, Price Gouging, and Counterfeit Products” due to the issue.

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Eventually, Bethenny, BStrong, and Global Empowerment Mission were able to donate more than two million masks and gowns to healthcare workers throughout the country.  It wasn’t an easy journey for the former reality star, but it certainly must be rewarding to help so many people.  Say what you will about our Skinnygirl mogul, but you can’t deny she works hard for what she believes in.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.

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